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Michael Dammann Eisner (born March 7, 1942) is an American businessman. For four decades, Eisner had been a leader in the American entertainment industry. Michael Eisner was formerly the Chief Executive Officer of The Walt Disney Company, a post he held from September 23, 1984 to September 2005.
Born March 7, 1942 in New York, Michael Eisner graduated from The Lawrenceville School in 1960 and Denison University in 1964 with a B.A. in English literature and theater. He served on the boards of the California Institute of the Arts, Denison University, American Hospital of Paris Foundation, the UCLA Executive Board for Medical Sciences, the Aspen Institute and the World Trade Center Memorial Foundation, and was a member of The Business Council. His great-grandfather, Sigmund Eisner, was one of the first uniform suppliers to the Boy Scouts of America. He had established and funded The Eisner Foundation, a philanthropic organization headed by his wife, Jane. He and Jane have three sons, Breck, Eric, and Anders.
ABC and Paramount
Michael Eisner began his career at ABC, where he rose to senior vice president of prime time production and development, taking the network from number three to number one with such landmark shows as Happy Days; Barney Miller; Rich Man, Poor Man; and Roots. In 1977, Michael became president of Paramount Pictures, leading the studio to become number one in box office and profitability, with such films as Raiders of the Lost Ark, Saturday Night Fever, Grease, Ordinary People, and Terms of Endearment.
In 1984, Michael assumed his position as Chief Executive Officer of The Walt Disney Company, and immediately implemented a number of successful growth strategies. At the theme parks, attendance and revenues climbed due to popular new attractions, the addition of new hotels, and an entire new theme park, The Disney MGM Studios.
The Walt Disney Studios shot from last place to first with live-action films such as Down and Out in Beverly Hills; Three Men and a Baby; Good Morning, Vietnam; and Dead Poets Society, and continued its winning ways with hits like Pretty Woman, Father of the Bride, Sister Act, The Rock, Armageddon, Remember the Titans, Pearl Harbor, The Princess Diaries, The Rookie, Signs, Sweet Home Alabama, and Bringing Down the House.
Renewed efforts at Disney animation resulted in such fiscally and creatively successful films as Who Framed Roger Rabbit, The Little Mermaid, Beauty & the Beast, Aladdin, The Lion King, Toy Story, Toy Story 2, Mulan, Tarzan, Dinosaur, Monsters, Inc., Lilo & Stitch, Finding Nemo and The Incredibles. Under Michael's leadership, Disney opened Disneyland Paris; expanded the Walt Disney theme parks; acquired Capital Cities/ABC, which included the ABC television network and equity ownership in ESPN, The History Channel, Lifetime, A&E, and E!; developed such leading Internet sites as Disney.com, ESPN.com, ABCNews.com, ABC.com, and Family.com; acquired Miramax Pictures; created Walt Disney Theatrical, which produced Beauty & the Beast, Aida, and The Lion King; developed the Disney Cruise Line; and acquired the Fox Family Channel (now ABC Family).
Pirates of the Caribbean
There had been some huge successes for Disney, such as the first film based on Pirates of the Caribbean, but even there, Michael Eisner was one of the Disney executives that were less enthusiastic about Johnny Depp's portrayal of Captain Jack Sparrow. Eisner himself criticized Johnny Depp's teeth and effeminate demeanor, so far as to proclaim while watching rushes, "He's ruining the film!"
Although Dick Cook had been a strong proponent of adapting Disney's rides into films, the box office failure of The Country Bears made Michael Eisner attempt to shut down Pirates of the Caribbean, which was in pre-production at the time. Saying that the movie was going to be far too expensive (i.e. $120 million). And with all of the undead pirate skeletons walking around and all the violence, this motion picture was going to wind up getting a PG-13 rating. And Walt Disney Pictures, as a rule, never released anything racier than a PG film.
So in spite of director Gore Verbinski and producer Jerry Bruckheimer already having storyboard artists at work, Eisner called them and said that Disney was not going to make the movie. However, Verbinski told his concept artists to keep working on the picture. The next week, Eisner made a visit to Bruckheimer's offices in Santa Monica for the express process of shutting down production, until the executive was astonished by what had been created. As recalled in the book DisneyWar, Bruckheimer had assembled storyboards and drawings of the major scenes, one of which was the skeletons under water and on the moonlit pirate ship. After getting a tour and running commentary from Verbinski, Eisner sat down. "I love it," he said. "Why does it have to cost so much?" Bruckheimer replied, "Your competition is spending $150 million," referring to franchises like The Lord of the Rings and The Matrix. Eisner concurred, but with the stigma attached to theme-park adaptations, Eisner requested Verbinski and Bruckheimer remove some of the more overt references to the ride in the script. Eisner's insistence to distance the Pirates movie from the theme park attraction didn't end with scenes being cut from the script. He was still worried that teenagers would think that "Pirates of the Caribbean" was a kiddie picture that—on February of 2003, just five months before Pirates opened in theaters)—he insisted in adding a subtitle, The Curse of the Black Pearl, to the film. Despite Gore Verbinski's objections, Eisner was argued that should Pirates prove to be a success, the studio could then keep the subtitle in case sequels were made. In response, still upset about the new title, Verbinski asked Disney's marketing department to make the subtitle unreadable on the posters.
Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl was a box office success; it opened at #1, grossed $654,264,015 worldwide, and became the fourth-highest-grossing film of 2003. The film also received positive reviews from critics. The Curse of the Black Pearl would be Eisner's only involvement in the Pirates film franchise.
The Save Disney War and Eisner's departure
In 2003, Roy E. Disney, the son of Disney co-founder Roy O. Disney, resigned from his positions as Disney vice chairman and chairman of Walt Disney Feature Animation, accusing Eisner of micromanagement, flops with the ABC television network, timidity in the theme park business, turning the Walt Disney Company into a "rapacious, soul-less" company, and refusing to establish a clear succession plan, as well as a string of box-office movie flops starting in the year 2000.
On March 3 2004, at Disney's annual shareholders' meeting, a surprising and unprecedented 43% of Disney's shareholders, predominantly rallied by former board members Roy Disney and Stanley Gold, withheld their proxies to re-elect Eisner to the board. Disney's board then gave the chairmanship position to Mitchell. However, the board did not immediately remove Eisner as chief executive.
On March 13 2005, Eisner announced that he would step down as CEO one year before his contract expired. On September 30, Eisner resigned both as an executive and as a member of the board of directors, and, severing all formal ties with the company, he waived his contractual rights to perks such as the use of a corporate jet and an office at the company's Burbank headquarters. Eisner's replacement was his longtime lieutenant, Bob Iger.